Full disclosure: I’ve never sweated more in my life. Once at Lara Hudson’s Mercury Method studio in Wicker Park, I half-wondered whatever possessed me to sign up for a heated fitness class on an 80-degree day. But The Mercury Method, first mentioned in TCW’s February issue, has become a staple of Chicago’s fitness community. I had to try it for myself.
“It glows red like hell,” says a favorable online review. Indeed, the studio’s interior space, heated to a sultry 98.6 degrees, is lit from below with reddish lights. That coupled with rhythmic music rising from some unseen place produces an other-worldy intensity that seeps into your consciousness like a barely-remembered dream.
At the check-in desk, I was given a yoga mat and small and large towel. I soon learned that those were three things without which the wooden floor of the interior studio space would have become a veritable slip-n-slide of my own making. Even with those accouterments, I sometimes found it difficult to maintain a pose as my limbs were, at times, as slippery as the stingrays in the Shedd Aquarium’s new exhibit.
The class I braved – Stamina – is one of Ms. Hudson’s four signature classes. Each class – Strength, Stamina, Control and Runner’s High – works all muscle groups, but to varying degrees. Strength focuses on more traditional strength training exercises, including extensive upper body work. Stamina has more of a yoga flow, with yoga and endurance components like seemingly interminable forearm planks, for example. Control zeroes in on the core. The most Pilates-influenced of the three, there’s much balancing and abdominal work involved. The newest, Runner’s High, strengthens runners with extra cardio and leg work.
Why the heat? Ms. Hudson chose to incorporate the element into her fitness classes after observing a rife desire among clients in her San Francisco Pilates studio. They wanted their Pilates with a side of cardio. “My mind went immediately to heat,” she says. “Maybe it’s not [the same] cardio experience that you get from running or spinning, but it’s definitely a real challenge to the heart and lungs when you have to work in heat.”
The heat’s secondary purpose is to necessitate a mind/body connection. I quickly found that to be successful in (and survive) a heated class, one must harness a great deal of mental strength to keep breathing regular and controlled. “If you don’t have good cardiovascular strength or just good breath control, heat is almost unbearable,” affirms Ms. Hudson. People feel really different after 60 minutes. Not just in terms of their muscles, but in a holistic way.”
I can vouch for that. Leaving the studio, I felt as though I’d had a full cardio workout, and then some. And once outside, I was struck with one thought – 80 degrees never felt so fine.
Fore more information on the Mercury Method, the studio and class schedules, visit www.themercurymethod.com.